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Arts & Culture

Cinema Sud Italian Film Festival

Gabriele Salvatores' Italian thriller I'm Not Scared involves ten-year-old Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) whose idyllic summer is interrupted by a terrifying discovery. While playing by an abandoned house near his tiny village, Michele finds a young boy chained inside a deep, dark pit. The feral child seems unable to explain why he's there and Michele flees in fear. Michele's innocent young mind cannot comprehend why anyone would put a child in a hole like that. As an explanation, he makes up an elaborate, fairy tale story about a father who is supposed to kill his own son, but doesn't have the heart to do it, so he keeps the child alive in a hole in the ground.

But slowly, Michele becomes aware of events in the adult world that shed light on this. He hears newscasts about a young boy who's been kidnapped. Then a visitor arrives at his home and suddenly Michele begins to suspect that his own parents may be involved.

Salvatores, who won an undeserved Oscar for Mediterraneo, displays far more skill here. His strength lies in his ability to work well with the children in the film and to make their perspective credible. He draws an especially convincing performance from the young Cristiano. The innocence of the children and their inability to understand the concept of kidnapping a child for money gives the film its unique spin on the thriller formula. The scenes with the children flow naturally, and Cristiano exhibits a real tenderness in his relationship with both his little sister and the kidnapped boy.

The film falters, however, with the adults. Maybe because they are seen mostly from a child's point of view, their behavior seems less credible and less fully motivated. And although the children are the focus of attention, the adults need to be better developed to make the film work better as a whole.

I'm Not Scared (rated R and in Italian with English subtitles) is an effective thriller that uses the young characters and the rural Italian setting to great effect.

Cinema Sud will also feature a selection of documentary work by Vittorio De Seta. Here's what Martin Scorsese had to say about the DeSta documentaries that were highlighted at the Tribeca Film Festival and that will play here at Cinema Sud: "Two years ago I received an unexpected gift from the Italian producers of Il Mio Viaggio in Italia (my documentary on Italian cinema). The gift consisted of several 35mm prints of documentaries directed by Vittorio De Seta between 1954 and 1958. There were seven color films in all -- each around 10 minutes long -- and six of them had been shot in Cinemascope. They had haunting titles, like Time of the swordfish, Islands of Fire, Easter in Sicily, Peasants of the Sea, Golden Parable... I had heard about De Seta's documentaries the way one hears of a legendary place: someone must have seen it at some point but no one remembered who, or when, or where... Neorealism had been taken to another level, where the director's participation in his narrative was so total that the line between form and content was obliterated and the events dictated the form. De Seta's sense of rhythm, his use of the camera, his extraordinary ability to merge his characters to their environment was a complete revelation. It was as if De Seta were an anthropologist who spoke with the voice of a poet... What kind of alchemy was this? Here was cinema in its essence -- where the filmmaker is not just recording reality but living it."

San Diego audiences can find the same pleasure as Scorsese by checking out DeSeta's documentaries at Cinema Sud. So plan on spending your weekend in the dark with one of San Diego's tempting film festivals.

For more information and a complete schedule of films and events at Cinema Sud go to www.cinemasud.com . You can also email host@cinemasud.com.

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